17 March 2010
By Pronoti Datta
Why does homoeopathy, which was founded in Europe, draw a lesser response there than in India, which has the most widespread practice in the world? An ongoing homoeopathy exhibition tells all
Sweet TalkThere’s an amusing anecdote, quoted in Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Habitations of Modernity, involving novelist Saratchandra Chatterjee and nationalist leaders Sarat Bose and Anilbaran Ray. The story hinges on their attitudes to khadi, the symbol of resistance to colonial rule. While Bose preferred finely spun khadi, Ray wore coarse khadi to show his fervid dedication to the cause. Taking a dig at khadi-wearing nationalists, Chatterjee said: “You see, we have all different kinds here. A little variety is a good thing. Anil is the mother tincture (of khadi), while Sarat is two hundred per cent dilution.’’
Chakraborty’s homoeopathy metaphor was very natural in a city which Martin Dinges, deputy director at Germany’s Institute for the History of Medicine of the Robert Bosch Foundation (IHM), calls “the real powerhouse’’ of the alternative medicine form. Speaking at the ongoing exhibition put together by Navi Mumbai’s Association for Research in Homeopathy (ARH), Max Mueller Bhavan and IHM, Dinges and other speakers traced the history of homoeopathy and why India took to it instantly.
German physician Samuel Hahnemann founded the practice in the late eighteenth century, and soon after, it travelled to India in the medicine kits of European doctors and missionaries. The country got its first dose of homeopathy around the 1830s through John Honigberger, a Hungarian doctor who had studied under Hahnemann. Honigberger treated Lahore’s Maharaja Ranjit Singh, whose vocal chords were paralysed, and, according to some accounts, the ruler’s favourite horse, which was afflicted by an ulcer. Impressed, the maharaja allowed Honigberger to open a sort of outpatient department in Lahore.
One of the first homeopaths to practice in Mumbai was Vishveshwar Kulkarni, who started a pharmacy, Roy and Co, in 1889 after learning the subject from a Jesuit priest in Karnataka. His great grandson, Dr Jeetendra Kulkarni, runs the shop on Princess Street and claims that his family pioneered homeopathy in western Maharashtra. Kulkarni bore the title Rao, which became the anglicised Roy.
According to Robert Jütte, director o f IHM, Indians quickly adopted homeopathy, as it is similar in some ways to ayurveda and unani medicine—all three have remedies made from natural products. “It was a bridge between the European and Indian world,’’ he explains. Initially, it was the “medication for infectious diseases, so it was perfect for India where cholera and malaria were common’’. The practice has grown to such an extent, Jütte says, that 13 per cent of all physicians in India are homeopaths. Next on the scale is Brazil, in which about 4 per cent of physicians are homeopaths. Dr R K Manchanda, deputy director (homeopathy) in Delhi government’s directorate of Indian Systems of Medicine and Homeopathy estimates that thanks to financial and legislative support from the government—homeopathy was officially recognised by the state in 1973—there are 185 homeopathy colleges inIndia and more than two lakh doctors.
While India has taken to the alternative medicine like a duck to water, it is severely criticised in the UK. In February, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee declared that the government should no longer fund homeopathy, as there was no scientific evidence to suggest that it worked better than placebos. Homeopaths argue that it’s unnecessary to seek a general proof. “In some cases it works and it some cases it doesn’t,’’ says Jütte. “For example, it’s not a cure for cancer.’’
At the centre of this debate is the practice of dilution. Remedies are made by diluting natural substances in alcohol or water to achieve the desired potency. Highly potent medicines are diluted to such an extent that no trace of the original substance remains. How then does it work? Unfortunately, no one knows. The ARH has collaborated with Mumbai’s University Institute of Chemical Technology to carry out research on how drugs with minuscule levels of original material affect the body. “One can say that we know nothing at this moment in time but it is an exciting field for research,’’ says ARH founder Dr SS Apte.
Scientists have suggested that the liquid in which substances are dissolved contain memories of original materials or that the very structure of the liquid could have been altered. Manchanda says, “Perhaps it has some rational basis which we may not know.’’
Date: Until March 18, 10am-6pm
Venue: Association for Research in Homeopathy,
Plot No 24-2/3, Sector 15, Airoli, Navi Mumbai (2769-9646)